Marathe: 'Leeds United's new San Francisco 49ers' link signifies culture overhaul'

Paraag Marathe and the San Francisco 49ers' purchase of ten per cent of Leeds United certainly came as a shock to some in West Yorkshire.

Thursday, 2nd August 2018, 5:12 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd August 2018, 5:13 pm
Marcelo Bielsa at Guiseley during pre-season.

The involvement of one of the NFL's most historic franchises though starts to make much more sense the deeper you dig. The story for both clubs, whether they have actively known about it or not, have run parallel to one another for years.

The 49ers have gone without a Superbowl victory for 24 seasons, while the Whites exile from England's elite is about to enter its 14th campaign.

Both of those feats are unfathomable for two teams who have fan bases spanning the globe.

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Marcelo Bielsa at Guiseley during pre-season.

San Francisco have been known to chop and change head coaches in recent times, another thing they have in common with the Elland Road club, overseeing seven different men at the helm since 2008.

In that same time period Leeds themselves have been through 14 managers, more than anyone else within English football, and have struggled to muster any serious challenge of returning to the Premier League barring a seventh-placed finish under Garry Monk a season ago.

In the summer of 2017 the 49ers, led by Marathe, decided they'd had enough, it was time for change and something similar appears to have happened in LS11 this summer.

The appointment of Kyle Shanahan, an up-and-coming head coach in the NFL, along with rookie general manager John Lynch, was met in America with widespread questioning but as Marathe states, it was more than just taking an unnecessary risk, it was about a complete overhaul in the way the organisation was being run from top to bottom.

Marcelo Bielsa during the friendly at Elland Road with Las Palmas.

"We tried to stay true to our process and what we were trying to do," Marathe told the YEP.

"We took some flack for it because other people were hiring their coaches and general managers and we were trying to patiently stay true to our process."

United spent two weeks chasing after their number one head coach target this summer eventually landing their man after prolonged talks.

Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizanni and Marcelo Bielsa.

Marcelo Bielsa's arrival at Elland Road sent shock waves through football but represents something similar to the 49ers a year ago, the Argentine isn't just another of those to acquire the hottest seat in English football, he is seen as the leader of a revolution by the hierarchy at Leeds, one in which was identified with the help of a document Marathe sent to United chairman Andrea Radrizzani earlier this summer.

"I had conversations with Andrea about culture and how important it is," Marathe continued.

"I had shared a lot of my research with him that I had done for our head coach search and it was all around culture and the bigger vision coming before any results on the pitch. Seeing that he subscribed to a lot of those philosophies was definitely promising.

"There's a palpable energy here that you can feel. The appointment of Marcelo I think has really regenerated and helped reboot the culture and the feeling around here.

"I feel like with Andrea coming in last year too, and hopefully with our involvement as well, that it feels like we're in the nascent stages of something special."

Marathe himself is never one to stand still and freely admits that he is still in the information gathering stages of the 49ers investment at Leeds United. Having learned his trade managing his parents pizza shop in in the shadows of Candlestick Park, the traditional home for the 49ers which they left in 2014, he's now into his 18th year with the franchise following his graduation from Stanford University.

"I feel like we can help," Marathe continued.

"For now it starts by asking the right questions. We're not coming in and trying to tell Andrea he needs to do this and that because that's not productive, nor would we have the expertise.

"Where we do have that is that we have seen and been through a lot. So he may see something for the first time that we have seen ten times over, so we're there as a resource and to help as a guide."

The romantic idea of resurrecting a fallen giant is clearly one that appeals to Marathe and those at the 49ers Enterprises, the investment wing of the NFL franchise, if it wasn't then Leeds would certainly be a left field choice, but Radrizzani himself has a certain pull.

"His passion is infectious," Marathe revealed.

"There was a business connection there before I even knew he was involved at Leeds. There's something about him, he's sort of got that and this, he has that will and maniacal drive and it's people like that who you want to follow.

"The truth is that we could because of our brand, which is one of the most powerful in the world, we could have worked with a lot of clubs and I'm not trying to toot our own horn, I just mean with our investment and our assistance, we could have worked with a lot of people but we wanted to find the right people where we felt like we could make a difference.

"There's no promises and no guarantees but we feel like this is as good as an opportunity as anywhere else."

It's fair to say Marathe will have his hands full as he continues his role in San Francisco alongside his appointment to the United board, which will leave many questioning how much actual involvement in the day-to-day running at the club he'll have. As it stands he has a constant dialogue with the hierarchy at the club on a daily basis and plans on being at Elland Road every other month.

The NFL's pre-season is about to get into full swing, along with the start of the new Championship campaign for the Whites. The next year for Marathe, Leeds United and the San Francisco 49ers will be interesting both collectively and individually.

The 49ers are a year into their culture reset, while United are just six weeks into theirs, yet both clubs want to see progression on and off the field, something in which has been lacking in recent history.

So what does a successful first year at Elland Road look like for Marathe? The answer comes back to the same thing and the message is clear.

"The obvious answer is, yes, you want improvement on the pitch," he conceded. "But really it starts before that, it starts inside that, it's a cultural change that you need to see.

"You need to see that permeate through the organisation, it needs to become a state of mind, a belief that you're going to get there and not just a desire.

"That is probably what I want to see first. That is what I would like to see in the next year, it's that true belief from everybody. Players, coaches and ownership that we belong there.

"Obviously it would be ideal if it manifested on the pitch in terms of wins as well but for me personally it's to see that culture permeate."